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Artist is wrapped up in renewal

Sarah Agaton Howes wraps up in one of the wool “renewal” blankets outside of Gordy’s Warming House in Cloquet earlier this month. Jamie Lund/jlund@pinejournal.com1 / 2
Sarah Agaton Howes points to the different designs on the wool “renewal” blanket she designed as she explains the traditional meanings and why she chose them. Jamie Lund/jlund@pinejournal.com2 / 2

Sarah Agaton Howes excitedly opened the ordinary box to pull out a beautiful wool blanket she had designed. The red and camel “renewal” blanket has Ojibwe floral designs in black that Howes uses in her traditional beadwork, moccasins and regalia.

“The renewal blanket represents our connection and renewal to our spirituality,” Howes said.

She pointed to each of the designs, explaining one is a dogwood flower, another is wild rice and her favorite is the strawberry — also known as the heartberry, because Howes said she feels like she is led by her heart. The dogwood flower is important in the Ojibwe culture as it is one of the plants used to make traditional tobacco for use with prayers.

“I want to honor the people who are working really hard to revitalize our traditions and our foods,” Howes said. “I want to recognize that through this renewal blanket.”

Her latest venture with the renewal blankets began about two years ago when she was contacted by Eighth Generation creator Louie Gong, an American Indian artist in Oregon whom Howes admires.

Gong had a vision to create the Inspired Natives Project and invited Howes, the owner/operator of House of Howes, to participate. According to her website, Howes is an Anishinaabe artist, teacher and community organizer from the Fond du Lac Reservation. She is widely known for her handmade regalia and moccasins featuring Ojibwe floral designs which are in demand across Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The Inspired Natives Project site explains Gong’s motivation this way: “Louie Gong has grown increasingly frustrated with ‘Native-inspired’ clothing and other products produced by large companies. He believes each ‘Native-inspired’ product represents not only a missed opportunity for talented Native artists to build knowledge through collaboration, it also presents a tangible barrier to Native arts entrepreneurs who must compete for a spot on shelves already dominated by non-Native companies producing products featuring appropriated art.”

The goal of the project is to help American Indian artists like Howes grow their business skills by building a better website and learn how to expand the business itself, like learning how to create the renewal blanket as well as several other products.

Howes has been creating custom beadwork since she was 22 years old because she wanted to dance at a powwow. Her mother and brother were both instrumental in teaching her the arts handed down in the family.

Howes continues to share her knowledge with others with workshops in the community, teaching people how to continue on the traditional arts and spreading it through the community. She teaches classes at the language camp, youth classes and classes at the Mash-ka-wisen Treatment Center.

According to her website, receiving the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council Artist Grant in 2013 enabled her to make a bilingual YouTube video about making Ojibwe Pucker Toe moccasins.

Howes said she has taught over 275 moccasin makers since she began teaching the classes in 2014.

Teaching people to make their own moccasins means more than just making footwear for Howes. It’s about teaching connection and pride in cultural identity to the Ojibwe people.

In 2015 Howes received the 20-under-40 Award from the Duluth News Tribune for her design work as well as her success with organizing an Indigenous women’s running group known as the Kwe Pack.

Howes glowed with happiness as she talked about the changes in her business since meeting Gong.

The House of Howes “Woodland Floral” blanket has recently been gifted at honoring events at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College to graduates and to elders in the Healing Pathways Project.

Howes will travel to Oregon as a guest speaker at Native Fashion Now at the Portland Art Museum in late August.

For more information about the renewal blanket or other products, visit www.houseofhowes.com.

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